Congratulations to the Texas Rangers, World Series champs for the first time in their 63-year franchise history. After a slow weekend without postseason baseball, we’ve had a chance to reflect on some key takeaways from the 2023 World Series: what could help the Blue Jays move forward this offseason as they retool over the next 141 days ahead of Opening Day in Tampa Bay on March 28th?
Texas Takeaways - Bochy able to “establish a winning culture”
Texas won 90 regular season games, one more than Toronto. They finished a game ahead of the Blue Jays as the second Wild Card seed, but were able to sweep their Wild Card Series over the Rays 2-0, brush aside the AL East pennant winning Orioles 3-0 in the Division Series, before a thrilling ‘Battle of Texas’ ALCS that they won 4-3 to advance to the ‘Fall Classic’. The Rangers then rather easily beat the 84-win Diamondbacks 4-1 to make Bruce Bochy a four-time World Series winning manager.
Like the Blue Jays, Texas featured a top ten MLB payroll in 2023 after some significant free agent additions, like Jacob deGrom, who’d signed a five-year, $185M deal. His season was cut short by his second Tommy John surgery after only six starts, and he’s likely to miss most of 2024 as well.
The most obvious difference between Texas and Toronto in the regular season was how the Rangers led the American League in runs, hits, average, RBI, and were tied with Minnesota for the league lead in home runs. Like the Blue Jays, they also had five Gold Glove finalists and three winners; unlike Toronto, they reeled off a record 11 consecutive postseason road wins, with a +42 run differential just in those road game wins. For the playoffs overall, they banged out 30 home runs while scoring 97 runs in 17 games; in fact, the team that hit the most homers went 25-4 (.862) in the 2023 postseason.
They accomplished that with a combination of big free agent spending, highlighted by a 10-year, $325M deal with eventual World Series MVP Corey Seager and a seven-year, $175M deal with former Blue Jay Marcus Semien, both of whom are 2023 AL MVP finalists; and, smart free agent signings, like the two-year, $34M contract with World Series ace and Texas native Nathan Eovaldi, who went 5-0 with a 2.95 ERA in six postseason starts this year over 36.2 mostly dominant innings.
General manger Chris Young, who also won it all as a player with the 2015 Kansas City Royals, was able to convince Bochy to come out of retirement for a chance at a 4th World Series ring with a three-year contract that runs through the 2025 season; the same term as Blue Jays manager John Schneider. Bochy has now won 17 postseason series, the second most among managers behind Joe Torre’s 19, and was named a finalist for 2023 AL Manager of the Year.
Like the Blue Jays, Young was able to fill out his roster with a number of cheaper pre-arbitration and arbitration eligible players that added value as measured by wins above replacement, like playoff hero and ALCS MVP Adolis Garcia (8 HRs, 22 RBI and 1.108 OPS in the postseason), Gold Glovers Jonah Heim and Nathaniel Lowe, Leody Taveras, Josh Jung and 21-year-old rookie Evan Carter.
After the deGrom injury, he was able to acquire starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer at the trade deadline, which worked; Montgomery went 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch over 67.2 solid innings, and then 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA over 31.0 postseason innings. Scherzer was 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 8 regular season starts and 45.0 innings in the heat of the AL West pennant chase with Seattle and Houston.
And while the Jays defence led MLB with a total defensive runs saved above average (DRS) of +85 versus Arizona +46 and Texas +35, Texas actually had a higher defensive WAR at +36.0, with Arizona at +35.0 versus Toronto’s +13.2. That’s based on FanGraphs’ calculations, which look at different components of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), like outfield arm, double play conversion and the Statcast metric Fielding Runs Prevented, which is Outs Above Average (OAA) converted to runs above average to evaluate position player fielding.
Based on Statcast’s OAA leaderboard, the D-Backs were second in baseball at +35, preventing 28 runs, and Texas was third at +33, preventing 27 runs. The Blue Jays ranked 10th on OAA at +10, preventing 11 runs.
Key takeaways for the Blue Jays: Yes, defence and run prevention are important, but you also have to score and slug your way to a much better run differential; Texas had a +165 run differential in the regular season compared to +75 for Toronto. In the playoffs, the Rangers outscored their opponents by +30 runs in 17 games after hitting .291 with a playoff best .928 OPS with runners in scoring position (RISP). The Blue Jays were only 3-for-14 (.214) with RISP in their two playoff losses.
As MLB Network's Anthony Castrovince pointed out, “Texas tied — with Bruce Bochy’s 2014 Giants! — as the lowest playoff seed to win the World Series. Additionally, the Rangers had the sixth-lowest regular-season win total (90) for a World Series winner in a 162-game season.” With the Blue Jays as the sixth (and final) Wild Card seed this year, the odds didn’t favor them to win it all.
The Blue Jays brain trust might also take note of how smaller signings like the Eovaldi contract, as well as trade deadline rentals like Jordan Montgomery can sometimes have a greater impact than a big contract like the deGrom deal.